What You Need to Know?

If you are planning a proposal in Rhode Island this article provides answers to many of your frequently asked questions.

Keeping it a Surprise

after a surprise proposal at the castle hill inn, a woman facetimes with her mom

First of all, the most important aspect of executing a successful ‘surprise’ proposal is keeping it a surprise, and how do you do that?; you  do nothing different; no behavioral changes. I had one instance where the ‘new fiance’ figured out that it was going to happen on the day of the proposal. When I asked how she figured it out, she said, “he made a reservation; he never makes reservations.”

In most cases, the partner does believe that they will receive a proposal at some point  in the future but NOT on the day it happens; surprise!

So, do nothing different.


planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - on a cruise

Not sure where to propose in Rhode Island? If so, read this article ‘Where to Propose in Rhode Island?

Some locations are personal, such as they place the couple first met or some other personal connections, and other locations are selected to depict the beauty of Rhode Island. As a photographer, these are my suggestion:

  • Select a  location where it is relatively easy to park, some summer beach locations are pretty impossible to park during peak periods. Remember, even if you can walk to the site, I have to park my truck and make it to the engagement spot on time.
  • Direction of the sun – I will discuss this with you; we would always want the sun to be behind me for the best images. Sure, we can take creative shots anywhere, but I would want the sun behind me for the ‘proposal’ photo itself. This is particularly important for late evening sun.
  • People – you do not want a location where people will be walking behind you. It is not always possible, but it is very desirable.
  • Access: some private locations have access restrictions

Not to worry, I can assist you in location selection.


planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - kissing at sunset

In almost all instances, proposals run late. It is not because the partners are tardy; it is because there are three parties involved in a surprise proposal, and only one of the parties does not know that there is a timed schedule. I am pretty flexible, and I understand that proposals often run late, sometimes very late. Once, I arrived at a restaurant, and the couple had not arrived, and when they did, they still had to have lunch! It was a beautiful day, and so I kicked back in the sun until showtime.

Where does this become important? When we are up against a deadline such as a sunset or a cruise departure.

What to do? Inform you, partner, that whatever that you are planning is earlier than planned. For instance, if you are going to dinner with reservations at 6 pm, inform your partner that the reservation is for 5 pm because even if your partner runs a little late, we will still have enough padding for the photoshoot.


planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - couple standing in front off the castle hill inn

You may want your partner to be ‘beautifully presented’ for the proposal, or you may know that your partner would like to be ‘beautifully presented.’ And so, how do you pull this off and still keep it a surprise? My suggestion and a tactic that I have seen work very well is to make a dinner reservation at an elegant restaurant or some other event where you would both be dressed nicely.

Also, based on what I have heard (from my couples) multiple times during the post-proposal mini-engagement shoots when I am taking close-up photos of the engagement ring is, “if I had known, I would have had my nails manicured.” So, if you think that your partner may like their nails manicured for the proposal, you may want to ask a friend you have in your confidence to take your partner for a spa day in the days/weeks leading up to the proposal. But remember, only if this would be normal behavior.

I have seen many proposals conducted during the day where the partner being proposed to was in casual/day clothes. It is a great way to pull off a surprise, but you need to know your partner and what they would prefer.

Time of Day

planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - Newport vineyards

This will vary throughout the year, but please try and avoid mid-day on a hot summer day in the summertime. The sun will be high in the sky and cast vertical shadows – shadows will appear under the nose and under the chin and eyebrows, which are typically not complementary. That said, we can make this work photographically, where we have got shadows to work with, but the heat and humidity can ruin a shoot even with the use of shadows. I had one shoot in Newport where I was sweating profusely, as was my couple. To salvage the shoot, we moved to where the vehicles were parked, and we ran the a/c in a truck to cool the folks down.

Sunset is often desired but can be problematic because if the couple is running late, we can lose daylight for both the proposal and have no light for the post-proposal mini-engagement shoot.

Sticking to the Plan, Well Kinda, Sorta!

planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - with stranger
planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - with stranger
planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - with stranger

In the days leading up to the proposal, I work with my clients to pick the spot of the proposal, even if they have a pretty firm idea of where they want it to happen.  Input from the photographer is always welcomed. I typically use a variety of tools to assist in agreeing on a spot for the surprise proposal and to guide my clients to that spot:

  • annotated Google map
  • existing photos of the area
  • drone videos of the location found on YouTube
  • the clients own photographs

Many times my clients are from out-of-state and have never been to the selected location and so it is very important that we plan out both the location and access to the location. These photos and screen captures are from a typical shoot in which I will annotate a Google map to get the client to the location;  and because I always arrive early, I take a photo of the spot for the proposal and text it to the client. These tools give the client confidence in the plan, one less thing to worry about on a very stressful day.

If I am fortunate, we can meet up in the hour before the proposal to go over the process and agree on a place for the knee to be dropped. I consider the direction of sunlight/shadow and wind and, if possible, an isolated background without people walking into view.

In my experience, with a perfect plan with an ideal location, 50% of my proposals do not go to plan. Why? Because the partner proposing is very nervous, and their primary focus is proposing and not what the photographer would like them to do. So, I am always prepared not to go as we discussed and ‘agreed to.’ For many of my proposal shoots, I write backstories in my blog that capture surprise proposals’ reality, check them out. Corey’s proposal to Jessica had a few twists.

I had one client who sent me a map with an ‘X’ marks the spot, and we discussed it on the phone earlier in the day, and we were  both set up for a perfect proposal. While I was at the pre-arranged spot, I watched the couple walk up the beach (as planned) and turn to walk toward my location. It was going as planned, but then they stopped, and I could see by his body language that he would drop to his knee. They were 150 yards away from my location. I dropped my backpack and ran at full speed down the sandy beach and captured the proposal but not as close as I would have liked. Not as planned. However, not only did he propose at the wrong spot he also had no spatial awareness and did not see the gentleman behind them. You probably do not want a random stranger in your proposal shot! If this does happen, and it happens. We will have a do-over to create a beautiful image, without the stranger!

Pets and Proposals

planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - with stranger

Occasionally, I have had couples who travel with their pets, and when I know that, we can pick a location that is both scenic and perfect for dog-walking that we can use to pull off a surprise proposal. “Let’s take the dogs for a walk before dinner.”

I should point out that if dogs are involved, I typically shoot the proposal at a greater distance because dogs are pretty good a sussing out a photographer hiding in wait.


planning a surprise proposal in rhode island - using props

Often props will be used to complete the proposal, flowers, wine/champagne. In one case, we built a fully-staged area with the words “will you marry me;” in another, two bottles of champagne were buried in the sand the night before.

If the prop is small enough, you can carry it in a bag or make arrangements with me ahead of time, and I may be able to take the item or store it for you at the site of the location. If you do decide to bring something along, do not let your partner get a sniff of it as it may blow the surprise.


Whatever ideas that you have for you proposal, please feel free to call me (401) 284-6106 and we can discuss you ideas.

Don’t Wait, Book Your Photoshoot with George!